JOHN Smit has emerged as the central figure in the Springboks’ extraordinary turnaround on their tour of Britain, which concluded with a record 42-6 defeat of England on Saturday.
Clinton Van Der Berg In London reports that after two fitful wins, against Wales and Scotland, the Boks finally produced a complete performance that reflected the deep well of talent within their ranks.
“It’s right up there with the best of them,” said the Bok captain, who took it upon himself in the week to have one-on-ones with his players.
“John was so vital to what went on here,” said centre Adi Jacobs, one of the team’s five try-scorers. “At every opportunity he spoke to us, told us the importance of winning. He told us how much it would mean to us all and what a great opportunity lay ahead. He drummed it home and I think we got the message.”
Indeed, the last time Jacobs featured at Twickenham he was reduced to tears in the wake of a 53-3 belting six years ago. This time, he embarked on a lap of honour.
The Boks pummelled England in all the areas that mattered, but it was in defence that they cut England down and killed their spirit.
Martin Johnson, the England manager, specifically mentioned Bakkies Botha’s dramatic trysaving tackle on Delon Armitage as an illustration of South Africa’s attitude. “That one was massive,” he said, before going on to describe the England dressing room as a “desolate” place after the defeat.
Smit had a feeling the Boks were onto something good the minute he stepped onto the pitch. “You can tell when the okes are in the zone,” he said. “Confirmation of that was when we had a poor start and I didn’t even feel the need to speak to the guys. I knew it was a blip and we’d be on course sooner or later.”
He explained that the players were motivated by the thought of winning at Twickenham. Some, such as Botha, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger, had tasted World Cup success but never won at the venue England call “HQ”.
“A lot of okes wanted to tick that box. I’ve had a lot of pain here, so to win is very special,” said Smit.
What made the result even more significant is that the Boks did so even after having two men (Beast Mtawarira and Conrad Jantjes) yellow-carded. Despite having an extra man for 20 minutes, England were unable to find a way through, which gave lie to coach Peter de Villiers’ claim in the week that his players were fatigued. They tackled as if their lives depended on it.
“If you look at how we defended when we had 14 men on the field, I have to say I’m very proud. It shows the heart of the players and the belief they have in one another,” said Smit. “You talk about training defence, but you can’t train scrambling defence. That moment with Bakkies only fuelled the fire in us.”
The coach said he was satisfied to have won, but added the caveat that this team could still do better. Indeed, an assessment of their year, in which they won nine of their 13 Tests, would have to include the comment that they are maddeningly inconsistent.
More of what we saw on Saturday and De Villiers might yet become a coach we all learn to love.Tweet